Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pema Chodron on Tonglen

[image source]

Doing tonglen throughout the day can feel more natural than doing it on the cushion. For one thing, there is never any lack of subject matter. Daily-life practice is never abstract. As soon as uncomfortable emotions come up, we train ourselves in breathing them in and dropping the story line. At the same time, we extend our thoughts and concern to other people who feel the same discomfort, and we breathe in with the wish that all of us could be free of this particular brand of confusion. Then, as we breathe out, we send ourselves and others whatever kind of relief we think would help. We also practice like this when we encounter animals and people who are in pain. We can try to do this whenever difficult situations and feelings arise. Over time it will become more automatic.

It is also helpful to notice anything in our daily life that brings us happiness. As soon as we become aware of it, we can think of sending it out to others, further cultivating the tonglen attitude.

As warrior-bodhisattvas, the more we train in cultivating this attitude, the more we uncover our capacity for joy and equanimity. Because of our bravery and willingness to work with the practice, we are more able to experience the basic goodness of ourselves and others. We're more able to appreciate the potential of all kinds of people: those we find pleasant, those we find unpleasant, and those we don't even know. Thus tonglen begins to ventilate our prejudices and introduce us to a more tender and open-minded world.

~ Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty
I've been thinking about how to do this more often. I think I posted a while back about using tonglen during conflict to diffuse the situation, but I haven't had much luck with it. On the other hand, I haven't had much conflict to practice with in daily life as of late.

There's one place, though, where I need something to soften me, and that's when I'm driving. I swear more than a drunken sailor when someone gets in front of me and drives slow. Tucson doesn't have freeways, so the main streets are marked with signs that say, "Slower Traffic Keep Right." I am amazed that so few people know how to read.

So this is how it plays out: someone will be in the "fast" lane and won't get out of the way. So I'm yelling, "Get the hell out of the way, you stupid @#%$^&! *^&$%^#@." And then I immediately feel guilty for raging at some poor (usually old) person, and before the last syllable of my cursing has left the air, I say, "May your heart be eased of suffering." As if that's going to make it better.

The really silly part, as if any of that isn't already incredibly silly, is that when I say the prayer for the end of their suffering, I mean it, and I really feel it.

And, I'm not angry like that in any other part of my life.

So I am going to try to employ tonglen for my own rage (i.e., suffering) when I am driving and see if I can mellow the "Mad Max" that lives in me. I waste an enormous amount of energy being angry when I am driving. Somehow I need to develop an ability to simply accept that most people are not as impatient as I am.

I suspect there is something deeper in this, as well. I talked about it in therapy a couple of times, but we never really got to any kind of insight. Maybe by giving it attention I can get to the heart of it.

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